EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Led by a woman known as the “Boss Lady,” an alleged human smuggling ring hid migrants in suitcases or crammed them into the back of tractor-trailers, federal authorities announced Tuesday.
The Department of Justice on Tuesday announced the disruption and dismantling of this “prolific” human smuggling operation, which operated in Texas and across the Southern United States, and the unsealing of an indictment charging eight individuals with human smuggling and conspiracy to commit human smuggling.
Court documents obtained by Border Report identify the ring leader as 31-year-old Erminia Serrano Piedra, aka Irma, aka Boss Lady.
During a news conference on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr., said that Serrano and her coconspirators allegedly coordinated the transportation and harboring of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border near Laredo, Texas, to places like Austin and San Antonio and other points in the interior of the United States.
Prosecutors say smugglers placed the lives of migrants in danger by frequently holding them in deplorable conditions, including tight spaces with little ventilation and no temperature control.
While transporting the migrants, drivers allegedly hid them in suitcases placed in pickups, cramming them in the back of tractor-trailers, the covered beds of pickups, repurposed water tankers or wooden crates strapped to flatbed trailers.
“This organization was motivated by personal greed, and Serrano and her coconspirators prioritized that greed over the safety of those that they allegedly smuggled,” Polite said.
The documents state that smugglers commonly referred to the migrants as “boxes” or “packages.”
The migrants — identified only as citizens of Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia — and/or their families allegedly paid members of the human smuggling organization to help them travel illegally to and within the United States.
Documents show that migrants typically paid about $3,000 to smugglers up-front in Mexico and another $5,000 to the smuggling organization once in the U.S.
The human smuggling organization paid drivers $2,500 for each migrant they picked migrants near the border and took to “stash houses.”
Serrano, described in court documents as a “hands-on” leader, and seven other alleged coconspirators were all arrested in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the Department of Homeland Security said in a news release. The other defendants include Kevin Daniel Nuber, aka Captain, 41; Laura Nuber, aka Barbie, 40; Lloyd Bexley, 51; Jeremy Dickens, 45; Katie Ann Garcia, aka Guera, 39; Oliveria Piedra-Campuzana, 53; and Pedro Hairo Abrigo, 33.
“Sadly, this case is an example of what we see in our district, too many times, especially in our border communities,” said Jennifer B. Lowery, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “Our Laredo office works continuously with our valued partners to bring to justice those who allegedly put profits ahead of everything else. No amount of money should be a substitute for human life.”
Polite said the operation was a part of Joint Task Force Alpha, which launched over a year ago to strengthen U.S. efforts to dismantle some of the most dangerous human smuggling and trafficking networks. In April, the Biden Administration committed over $50 million and over 1,300 personnel to Latin America and the Southwest border to bolster those efforts, which have resulted in the arrest of 5,000 people and the seizure of 7,603 kilograms of drugs.
Investigators say that as part of the investigation, they reviewed Serrano’s accounts and found substantial cash deposits that did not have a legitimate source. In one instance, court documents state, she received $129,000 in seven separate deposits, all within 11 minutes on Aug. 4, 2020.
“The charges announced today are just the latest example of these efforts’ success,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said Tuesday. “The Justice Department will continue to bring our full resources to bear to combat the human smuggling and trafficking groups that endanger our communities, abuse and exploit migrants, and threaten our national security.”
Polite said the investigation into this smuggling operation began last summer and has resulted in about 120 arrests, of which 50 have resulted in convictions. If convicted, the defendants could forfeit three properties and $2.3 million.